Like a Prayer, Only Snazzier!
Album #8 : Madonna — Like a Prayer
To be honest, it was quite difficult to choose which Madonna album I wanted for this list. I knew I wanted to include her because she is undisputedly the Queen of Pop. Because she has simply always been around, it is easy to forget just what Madonna has achieved. In case her credentials were ever in doubt, here’s a reminder: she is the best-selling female recording artist of all time, holds the record for the most number one singles by a female artist in Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain and the UK and is the highest-grossing solo touring artist of all time. She also starred alongside Ali G in one of her music videos, which was good.
So, clearly Madonna is an icon. But she is much more of a singles artist than a producer of high-concept albums. This album cements that — Like a Prayer and Express Yourself (which, fun fact, was released on the day I was born) are absolutely great but they set a pace that the rest of the album can’t keep up with. There are lots of reviews out there that say this is a ‘coming-of-age’ record but, honestly, after the two singles there’s very little that sets it apart from any other pop record. Apart from maybe the unbelievably annoying voiceover at the end of Act of Contrition.
One of the most interesting things about this album was the reaction to it. Specifically that of the Vatican, who went out of their way to condemn the video for Like a Prayer. Which is a shame, really, because it suggests that before it was condemned some cardinals and bishops were bopping along to Prince-produced pop and afterwards they were deprived of that entertainment.
It’s also a shame because I think Madonna and the Catholic church could probably learn quite a lot from each other. For Madonna’s part, a taste of the grace and decorum that the church employs wouldn’t go a miss (see, again, Act of Contrition).
For the church’s part, they could learn from Madonna’s showmanship. As an example, I remember being in church at about age 7, I wasn’t showing much interest and my mum leant over to me and said, “pay attention, the priest is going to turn the stuff on the table into Jesus.”
To be fair to 7-year-old me, in terms of entertainment Catholic mass is hardly laugh-a-minute. Nowadays I think of mass as more of a time of quiet contemplative reflection but that is quite a hard concept to explain to someone in primary school. However, once I knew about the magic… Well, that piqued my interest…
So, I thought, how is the priest going to do this? Does he have something up his massive sleeves, maybe? They’re big, sure, but not that big… Clearly, he was going to need some help. And he got it in the form of two assistants. Admittedly, Barbara and Dorothy from down the road were no longer that glamorous, and Barbara wouldn’t be able to do the contortion act anymore on account of her arthritis, but they would do for this job. Maybe it was one last show, the reunion gig — get the old band back together and sing the hits one last time.
Imagine my 7-year-old disappointment then when there was no great puff of smoke, no lasers and no pyrotechnics… Just people getting up to receive communion. And to make things worse, I wasn’t even allowed it yet. I was outraged. But I was also 7, so got over it pretty quickly.
Obviously, I have since made my First Communion (and had all the important lessons that go along with that), so I now understand the concept of transubstantiation and the importance it holds to the Catholic church. Still, a bit of razzmatazz never hurt anyone.
I had forgotten this until recently, but prior to your First Communion you also make your First Confession. I can’t remember if I suggested the church adopt an approach to ‘be more like Madonna,’ but I am pretty sure I didn’t for fear of banishment. Excommunication is also a difficult concept to explain to someone in primary school…
Thanks for reading — over the course of 2021, I’ll be reviewing 50(ish) of the greatest albums ever recorded. You can see the list here.